SPLIT ROUND: EIGHTH ROUND FOR CENTRAL STAGS, SEVENTH ROUND FOR AUCKLAND ACES
McLean Park, Napier
5-8 April, 2022
Toss: Central Stags who bowled
RESULT: MATCH DRAWN
Auckland Aces win the Plunket Shield with a round to spare
First innings bonus points:
Stags 8 (maximum achieved), Aces 4
Total points this round: Stags 8, Auckland Aces 4
Flynn McGregor-Sumpter - first-class debut
Jordan Sussex - first-class debut
Ben Horne - Auckland Aces captaincy debut
Blair Tickner - fifth first-class five-wicket bag
Flynn McGregor-Sumpter - maiden first-class half century
Simon Keene - maiden first-class half century
Tom Bruce - sixth first-class century
Josh Clarkson - maiden first-class half century
Tom Bruce - second first-class double century, in consecutive matches
Tom Bruce - first player to score 500 runs in the Plunket Shield without being dismissed
Tom Bruce - first player to score consecutive double centuries in the Plunket Shield
Will Clark - career best batting
A cloudless morning greeted both teams on what would be the Central Stags' final day of 2021/22, while the Auckland Aces have one more round to go in Lincoln next week.
The Aces began the day at 9/1 in their second innings with a 185-run deficit to tick off and wickets to preserve in order to claw their way back into a stable position.
Having lost Sean Solia the night before, they soon lost two further men with Joey Field removing Cole Briggs' middle stump and debutant Flynn McGregor-Sumpter unable to repeat his heroics of the first innings after Blair Tickner took his wicket for no score.
However, opener Will O'Donnell remained and knuckled down for a stoic partnership with Ryan Harrison that saw the Aces through to 70/3 by lunch.
Their partnership reached 78 and they added a further 33 runs after the break before the Stags got another breakthrough, leg-spinner Brad Schmulian getting O'Donnell caught in the second over of his spell.
Ajaz Patel had been toiling away for no rewards, but would finally dislodge the patient Harrison on 23, ending a resistance that had lasted for almost four and a half hours.
Patel finished with a two-for but a lively unbeaten 89* off just 92 from Aces captain Ben Horne ensured the visitors saved the game, having taken themselves into a slight lead before bad light stopped play for the fourth successive day as the sun slunk behind the Harris Stand.
The Aces remained unbeaten after seven rounds, with five wins, two draws and one more match to go before celebrating their success.
We shouldn't forget that Central Districts were 11-3 when Tom Bruce came in to bat yesterday #PlunketShield— Francis Payne (@FPayne100) April 7, 2022
Tom Bruce batted throughout the Stags' innings on the third day, and wrote himself into cricket history.
Fresh off an unbeaten 208* in the previous match in Whangarei (and an unbeaten 90* when his captain had declared in the match before that, in Palmerston North), Bruce not only went on to raise his bat for another century, but carried on for another double century back-to-back with an unbeaten 204* (302 balls) in Napier.
TOM BRUCE ladies & gentlemen! Two first-class double centuries on the bounce 😮 Amazing achievement @TomBruce42 🙌— Central Stags 🏏 (@CentralStags) April 7, 2022
Scores and stream https://t.co/cbQyGGYUXj
The first man in the 115-year history of the Plunket Shield to back up with a double, and the first man to score 500 runs in the Plunket Shield without being dismissed. His career average simply skyrocketed in the space of 8.5 overs.
Tom Bruce starts the day with scores of 90*, 208*, 62* - 360 runs without being dismissed. Almost 4000 runs at 45. Only 10 players in NZ first-class history have a higher career average (min 3000 runs) #PlunketShield— Francis Payne (@FPayne100) April 6, 2022
Bruce had begun the day on 62 not out, with Bayley Wiggins 21 not out at 131/4.
Wiggins lasted just three balls against Aces debutant Jordan Sussex on the third morning before he shouldered arms only to hear his stump go cartwheeling behind him.
That brought Josh Clarkson to the crease - an allrounder best known for his white-ball power hitting.
Clarkson would rise to the occasion, bringing up a century stand with Bruce and posting his maiden first-class half century - with one of his three sixes, including one that somewhat problematically went into the locked, fenced well of the light tower, before lunch.
By then, the Central Stags were in the lead to the tune of 50 runs, with Bruce already having raised his bat for the first time for the day.
Bruce dominated proceedings, swivelling into his trademark pull shots and producing elegant but powerful strokeplay whilst the younger and less experienced Clarkson was predominantly a picture of concentration, restraint and determination as he carefully constructed his career-best effort.
The sixth-wicket partnership between the pair reached 191 as an exasperated Auckland Aces unit compounded their own misery by dropping a flurry of chances.
Clarkson reached 83, just 13 runs required now for a maiden century.
But his luck ran out, given caught behind off a delivery that appeared to have brushed only his shoulder. He had batted for more than three hours, and done his job in support.
Ollie Pringle had a double breakthrough when Joey Field departed a few overs later after at 336/7, then Sean Solia picked up Ajaz Patel for his third wicket of the innings at 344/8.
That brought young allrounder Will Clark to the middle with the Stags still keen to tick off their eighth bonus point of the match, and Bruce drawing ever closer to a historic double.
The pair rustled up a quick 50-stand for the ninth wicket before Bruce flicked the single he needed off Simon Keene to write himself into cricket history.
Clark went on to slap Keene for two sixes amid 15 off the celebratory over, the young man joining Bruce and Clarkson with a first-class career best on the third day as he shot to 41 off 62 balls.
He would be caught at the end of the following over off Ross ter Braak, and Blair Tickner's dismissal - a third wicket for the impressive Jordan Sussex - closed the Stags' account at 415 four balls later.
The Stags had taken a 194-run first innings lead, and by stumps would have the Aces 9/1 after an early strike by Josh Clarkson removed Sean Solia.
The Stags had one day, now, remaining in their 2021/22 season. Could they use it to become the first team all summer to beat the Plunket Shield champions?
On a bright, clear morning aggressive Blair Tickner wasted little time in snaffling the one wicket he needed for his fifth first-class bag, Will Somerville departing scoreless at 84/6.
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But just when it seemed the Auckland Aces were on the doorstep of disaster, two rescuers stepped up with their maiden first-class half centuries.
Left-hand batsman Flynn McGregor-Sumpter had already batted through most of the previous day's play as the wickets clattered around him, showing excellent temperament in his first match and workmanship that ultimately saw him bat for more than four hours as the anchor.
Now he found a partner, with impressive 20-year-old Simon Keene - coming into this match with a bag from each of his first three matches - demonstrating that he could hold a bat, as well.
The pair was chalk and cheese, Keene cutting his way to five boundaries while Keene was particularly punishing square of the wicket, with his powerful pull shots seeing him quickly overtake McGregor-Sumpter and beat him to posting a maiden first-class 50.
Keene didn't spare Ajaz Patel either, dancing down to thump him over his head for a big six and if this player doesn't have a bright future, then New Zealand sits on the west coast of Australia.
Keene's half century came up off 84 balls, in 107 minutes, with six boundaries to go with the six. McGregor-Sumpter deservedly followed suit soon after, in 128 balls, after 210 minutes, with his five boundaries.
The pair had a seventh-wicket century stand in the books before lunch, by which time they had whistled their side from 84/6 to 186/6, and the partnership would reach 107 before fellow former NZ Under-19 Joey Field finally enticed Keene into hooking a ball too close to his nose, caught after an entertaining 68.
The fieldsman on the boundary was Dane Cleaver whose back niggles had seen him replaced again by Bayley Wiggins as keeper, and between them the wicketkeeping pair would take four catches behind the stumps and three in the field.
Ollie Pringle now joined McGregor-Sumpter (above) in the 69th over as the Auckland Aces camp began to watch the scoreboard with increased delight. Having headed into the game needing just one more point to win the Plunket Shield, the seventh wicket stand had taken them into a position to get a batting bonus point for getting to 200 inside the 110-over cut-off.
At 1.21pm, Pringle did the honours, and in style. Dancing down to Patel, he smoked a six to ensure the Plunket Shield would join The Ford Trophy in the Auckland Cricket Association cabinet at the end of the season, to the emphatic applause of his teammates.
Field and Patel would combine to hasten the end of the innings, however, the Aces all out for 221 in 77 overs just a few overs down the track, Field finishing with 3-30 and Patel finally removing McGregor-Sumpter on 56.
Keene had top-scored with 65.
Veterans Greg Hay and Ben Smith opened the batting for the Stags, big paceman Jordan Sussex (below) taking the ball to open the Aces attack on debut alongside Ross ter Braak.
Sussex's first three deliveries were dot balls before the Aces erupted in applause again as Hay's off-stump went rocking back: a big maiden first-class wicket in the first over.
Sean Solia's entry as first change in the 10th over then produced a quick double strike, the valuable wickets of Smith and Cleaver gone at 11/3. The tables had appeared to be turned.
Fresh off their century stand in Whangarei, Brad Schmulian and Tom Bruce restored order again for the Stags however, and got them through to 42/3 by tea.
Schmulian would be lost on 38, a wicket for ter Braak.
Bruce (above), in his rich vein of form, went on to reach an unbeaten 62* before bad light again curtailed the day, with Wiggins 21* and the hosts set to resume at 131/4.
The weather and weirdness that had haunted the Stags' campaign of 2021/22 was not done yet.
On a bright, sunshiney April day destined to push the mercury up to 26 degrees Celsius, the teams turned up to a ground initially coated in a clammy thick sea fog.
The match was due to start at 10am, half an hour earlier than normal after the reversion of daylight saving on the weekend, but the damp conditions had created marked squishiness in the areas where pace bowlers take off, at both ends of the pitch.
An early lunch would be taken until, at 2.20pm after the ground had dried out, it was finally time to play ball.
Stags captain Greg Hay had won the toss and unsurprisingly elected to bowl on a well grassed surface, with Blair Tickner having sped down from the BLACKCAPS' Ross Taylor farewell match in Hamilton to rejoin his side for their season finale.
The undefeated Aces meanwhile still have a game in hand (against Canterbury in Lincoln next week) and had headed to Napier needing just a single point, from the maximum 20 available per round, to categorically clinch the Plunket Shield title for 2021/22.
Both sides were missing some faces due to COVID-19 isolation, including their influential skipper Robbie O'Donnell, with Ben Horne stepping up for the Auckland Aces to lead his team for the first time.
Debuting in Horne's XI were batsman Flynn McGregor-Sumpter and paceman Jordan Sussex, as O'Donnell and bowler Ben Lister stayed at home in the big smoke.
For the Stags, Tickner's reappearance had helped compensate for the loss of their top wicket-taker to date, the sizzling Ray Toole who was likewise isolating, but the squad had escaped relatively unscathed from their COVID-hit fixture in Whangarei over the previous week that had meanwhile caused such carnage for ND.
After the sudden curtailment of that match, ND still had a technical life in the competition this season, but the Stags were now playing for pride - and were the dominant side on Day One.
Although bad light shortly after tea restricted the opening day in Napier to little more than one session - 33.4 overs bowled instead of the regulation 90-odd, by the time play was called off for the day Tickner was already perched on the cusp of a bag.
The big paceman had 4-41 off his 12 overs - including a sharp catch that came flying to Bayley Wiggins, dismissing Sean Solia for just 12.
Experienced Solia was fresh off his maiden first-class century in the previous round and it was one of the key wickets for the hosts who headed off with two bonus points, having pushed the Aces to 84/5.
Josh Clarkson had claimed the remaining wicket by getting Rhys Harrison caught behind off Clarkson's third delivery - the occasional red-ball allrounder's first wicket of the season duly celebrated.
Meanwhile, debutant Flynn McGregor-Sumpter had come in at four, knuckled down for the hard yards and hung on until stumps, after 82 minutes.
However, he had lost another partner with captain Horne departing shortly before the end of the day when he, too, was caught behind off Tickner.